88. Colour

Friday, November 30th, 2018

“Rainbow drops – suck them and you can spit in six different colours”   (Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, (1977))


Welcome to Histories of the Unexpected where you will discover the history of things you did not know even had a history and how those histories link together; who knew that the history of books is actually all about ladders, worms and chairs, or that the history of the smile is actually all about the French Revolution!

For this episode let us join Professor James Daybell, and Dr Sam Willis, as they lead us through a rainbow of historical intrigue to bring you the unexpected history of colour.

From the recreated Viking colour palette to ‘Ashley’s Sack’, a bag, given to Ashley by her mother Rose when Ashley was sold as a nine year old child in America in the 1820’s, ‘filled with love’ and stitched by Ruth Middleton, her granddaughter in 1921, from the white washing of the Reformation period to the New Year Gift List of Elizabeth I, and from the browns and greys of Ernest Shackleton’s 1920s London to the blackouts of WWII and the air raid warden’s shout of “Shut that light off!”, James and Sam take us on a vibrant adventure of what colour might mean.

Our flushed, tinted and shaded duo will discover that this unexpected history is actually all about: loyalty and gender, preservation and memorialisation, politics and codification, death and remembrance, structures and institutions of power, absence and loss.

Listen out as James suggests a Viking Dulux colour chart – lichen purple or lead red?


“any colour – so long as it’s black”    (Henry Ford)

More Podcasts

Episode 3: Smoke

4, 10, 2016 - Sherlock Holmes stated that he could identify 140 different types of tobacco just from the ash .... Read More

86. End of summer catch up

8, 10, 2018 - Dr Sam Willis and Professor James Daybell talk about just what on earth they’ve been up .... Read More


8, 2, 2021 - In this episode, the Histories of the Unexpected duo, James and Sam, take to the skies to swoop .... Read More

Subscribe to our newsletter

Keep up to date with Histories of the Unexpected